Japanese Learning App Review: iKnow

in Study Resources, Study Resources Review | 2 Comments »

What is iKnow?

iKnow is a supercharged flash card system to learn new vocabulary on iOS, Android and the web. It uses a smart spaced recognition system to determine when a new word appears or learned word reappears in your next study session. It also comes with audio recordings to help you pronounce the word and to hear how it’s used in a sentence.

Right now, there are courses for Japanese, Chinese (both Traditional and Simplified) and English vocab. There are about 6000 words for Japanese, over 2000 for Chinese and over 500 SAT or higher level words for English.

For power users, you can also create your own flash cards with the iKnow system.

The Good

It’s been about a year since I used iKnow. It’s my go-to app during my 20-minute morning commutes. I just plug in my headphones, choose “learn 10 words”, do what it says. It’s quick and pain-free.

I’ve definitely learned new words but surprisingly what I learned most is good pronunciation. I went to Japan last month and my language partner commented that my Japanese has improved a lot since he last met me a year ago. This whole time, I had not taken any formal classes and not done much studying outside of iKnow, so I must credit much of it to the app. A few shopkeepers have also commented that they mistook me for a Japanese person because my 「発音がいい」(pronunciation is good).

The Bad

With that said, I found the categorization of the vocabulary iffy. There were words in the beginner level that I’ve never seen before and words in the intermediate level that I learned within my first 2 months of Japanese class. It makes learning a bit painful as I have to curate each level before I start.

For those whose hoping this to be an all-round study – it’s not. There is no way to test your writing, since you type your answers. So while you’ll be able to recognize, read and pronounce the words well, you’re going to have to do your own due diligence when it comes to writing.

The Verdict


At a yearly subscription rate of ¥9,360 (approx 75 USD / 100 SGD), it’s a cheaper alternative than language schools. While it is not as comprehensive as a full-fledged class, it makes language learning more convenient since you can access it anytime, anywhere.

I would recommend it to busy people who want a quick and easy way to keep in touch with the language. I would also highly recommend iKnow for those of you who want to work on your vocab and/or pronunciation.

Screenshots of iKnow

iKnow Android Screenshot
Android Screenshot

iOS / iPad Mini Screenshot

Web Screenshot

Starting from scratch / 一からやり直している

in My Learning Progress | 2 Comments »

It’s been more than half a year since I touched any sort of Japanese. Work got busy and I spent most of my free time renovating my new house.

But to be honest, part of the reason I stopped was because I felt that my learning method was not really working anymore. I had an excellent grasp of the grammatical points, understood most of the nuances, learned new words at the speed of an F1 race car but I could not string sentences quick enough to save my life.

I needed the break to be clear about my learning goals and find a new method that will help me get there.

Getting clarity: why do I want to learn Japanese?
To understand Japanese culture. To be more specific, to learn to see the world as an Eastern person.

Japan, to me, preserved the essence of what it means to be traditionally Eastern—something that modern China has mostly lost, so I have to seek it from a neighboring country.

Since childhood, I have been so Westernised, I have very little inkling of what it’s actually like to be Eastern. And the more I learn about Chinese and Japanese history and culture, the more apparent it became that they see the world very differently from Western people. While Westerners prize values like freedom and independence, Easterners prize 关系 (Chinese for relationships) and 義務・義理 (Japanese for obligation).

The difference in values fundamentally affects how we perceive the world. Westerners see the world as made up of isolated objects, each with its own unique characteristics to analyse, to dissect and ultimately to control if it is to your interest to do so. Easterners see the world as connected whole, where every part is somehow linked to another, so the goal becomes to go about living your life while knowing how to preserve the balance in this interdependent world.

I can theoretically understand this difference but I can’t experience it.

So what I want to achieve is to Easternize myself. Linguistically, this means I need to be able think in Japanese like a Japanese person. When I start thinking and dreaming in fluent, uninterrupted Japanese, I would have reached my goal.

So how do I get there? What is my new method of learning?

I’ve done some research into second language acquisition, reviewed my past experience with language learning and discovered one key point: the road to fluency is not like studying for an algebra exam (like what I’ve been doing), but more like training for sports. There is no need to memorize rules and force yourself to see patterns where they don’t exist.

Language learning is much more like how I practiced shooting the basketball 400 times a day. After months of hard training, making a 3-pointer swish became effortless, almost instinctive in the heat of a game because my body simply remembers what a swish feels like. By the time the ball leaves my finger, I know whether I’ve made the shot or not. There was no need to check the net.

I just know.

Similarly, when you hear and mimic “すみません、ちょっと聞きたいんですが… 炊飯器はどこにありますか” for the 200th time, you will simply know how to say it when you are looking for a rice cooker in Bic Camera. There is no need to worry about sentence construction, whether it is a は or が, whether it’s 自然な日本語 or textbook-like. By then, you’ve heard it and mimicked so much, you just know.

That’s how we all picked up our first language, so why should it be any different for our second language? It’s not like I know what the past participle is in English, but I’m pretty damn sure I know how to correctly use it.

So that’s it. I’ve thrown away everything I learned and re-started using a ready-made spaced repetition system called iKnow. I use it everyday in my commute to work now. I basically listen to bunch of sentences with new words and mindlessly mimic. I don’t try to analyse the sentence. I don’t care whether it’s 自動詞 or 他動詞. If I don’t know the other words in the sentence, I don’t berate myself over it. I just understand it and mimic it as closely as possible — every tone, every inflection.

iKnow Language Learning Website

Let’s see how this goes in a few months. I’m excited to see the results. 頑張ります!

Further Reading
For those of you interested in learning more about the theories of second language acquisition and learning, check out:

卵かけご飯を作った / I made Tamago Kake Gohan

in Daily Life, Japanese Culture | No Comments »

Tamago kake gohan

Last year, I saw tamago kake gohan for the first time on YouTube.

I thought that it’ll definitely taste great, so when I went to Tokyo, I searched high and low for it.

But, I couldn’t find it anywhere. orz

今日は休みなので、 卵かけご飯を作ってみました。
I’m on leave today, so I tried making tamago kake gohan.

It’s pretty good, but as I don’t like carbohydrates, eating a whole bowl of rice is just too much for me!

Tamago kake gohan ingredients

Tamago kake gohan after mixing

一分間英語学習教材 / 1-Minute English Study Materials

in Study Resources | 2 Comments »

[February 18 Edit: Special thanks to K-san for editing my mistakes!]

To all English learners, today I’m going to recommend an English study resource.

On YouTube, there is a psychology channel in English.

All the videos are 1 minute each.

The topics are pretty interesting.

These videos will teach you how to easily read people’s personalities and their way of thinking.

You can use them often at drinking parties or group dates etc. LOL!

On top of that, there are English captions and the language is not very difficult, so I think it’s a good study resource.

Please enjoy!

リンク/Link: In59Seconds

リストラ / How to Say Cut Jobs in Japanese

in Daily Life | 1 Comment »

I met one of my language partners today at Brewerkz.

We drank beer and talked about a variety of stuff.

Then I learned a new word from him: risutora.

Recently, the story about Sony cutting 5000 jobs is being reported.

When we were discussing about that, he explained that the news rarely uses kubi wo kiru; they use risutora wo suru more frequently.

Risutora is the short form for the English to restructure.

There’s just so much of Japanese-styled English!

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